by HaRav Nosson Wachtfoge, ztvk'l, prepared by a
". . . To Envision the Punishments [of] Gehennom"
The disaster that took place in the U.S. two year ago at this
time came to us vividly in photos and films. The differences
between this and other acts of murder were many, but one of
the lesser noted aspects was the fact that everything was
captured on a live broadcast and transmitted to the four
corners of the earth. All the terrible disasters that take
place are covered fully in the media, and the horrifying
details are laid out before us.
Chazal taught us that if something is brought to our
attention and makes a deep impression upon us, this is for a
definite reason. It is meant to teach us something.
The sight of any disaster has the power to suppress and dull
a person's innate compassion, and this is surely not the
purpose of our viewing it. What then is the message we must
take to heart? Why were we privy to those horrible scenes?
What did it mean in its timing -- the tail end of year
Some years previously, one of the most influential figures of
Torah Jewry in America, the Mashgiach HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel
ztvk'l, had this observation to make:
"And it was when the king heard the words of the Torah, he
rent his garments . . . Thus said Hashem the G-d of Israel .
. . Because your heart was tender and you submitted yourself
before Hashem upon hearing what I said regarding this place
and its inhabitants that they would be desolate and accursed,
and you rent your garments and wept before Me . . .
Therefore shall I gather you to your ancestors . . . in
peace and your eyes shall not behold all the evil that shall
befall . . . " (Melochim II 22:11,19).
The Alter of Kelm explains (Choshen Mishpot I, 1) that
whoever hears rebuke and does not accept it is to be
considered a haughty, arrogant person. For this is the nature
of a baal gaava -- he does not become impressed or
shocked upon hearing the punishments written in the Torah.
Along these lines, it is written, "One who hardens his heart
. . . will fall in evil" (Mishlei 17:20). Hardening
one's heart indicates a person who does not feel abject and
submissive when he hears of the punishments of Hashem. His
heart is hard as iron and he does not lower himself before
Our work on Rosh Hashonoh is to repent so that we will be
worthy of standing before the King and serving Him. When one
accepts upon oneself the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom, he
must become aware of the greatness of the King and of His
capacity to bless or punish, to give life or withhold it. One
who obeys the King's command shall live, and whosoever
disobeys it will be punished.
Therefore, a person must take these things to heart and
submit himself before Hashem. By virtue of this submission,
he rends the harsh decree of his sentence, as explained in
the historic account of King Yoshiyohu. This is the purpose
of the effort demanded of us on Rosh Hashonoh.
R' Betzalel Horowitz zt'l Hy'd came to Kelm before the
Second World War and could not help asking why that fiend,
Hitler ym'sh, rose to power. How was it possible for
him to inflict such terrible suffering, to display such
brutality and cruelty, in the face of the entire world? Evil
men arose in the past, but they had been ashamed of public
censure and wrought their evil deeds away from public
He explained that the prime object of a person's toil is to
submit himself to the will of Hashem. In former times, faith
was much stronger amongst Jewry and everyone believed firmly
in Gehennom. They were able to visualize it in their
mind's eye and this served as a sufficient deterrent to
But with the deterioration of the generations and the
subsequent weakening of faith, Heaven found it necessary to
demonstrate before the entire world what suffering really is,
so that we take the lesson to heart and apply the insight to
our very selves: that whatever we see is only a foretaste of
the suffering of Gehennom. If we do this in this
world, in time, and submit ourselves wholly to Hashem, we can
avoid being punished in the next.
This is our obligation on Rosh Hashonoh: to visualize the
magnitude of Hashem's power and to realize that everything
depends on Him. If we transgress His commandments and disobey
His will, we shall be duly punished. We must actually imagine
the terrible suffering and bitter punishments that are the
Divine retribution when necessary, and thereby coerce
ourselves into obedience. Thereby we can rend the evil decree
hovering over us and emerge successful in our judgment.
The Connection to Rosh Hashonoh
The Mashgiach drew a comparison between the above idea and
Rosh Hashonoh in the following manner:
We can better understand the tochochoh-rebuke found in
the Torah, which is read right before Rosh Hashonoh. This
reading is designed to arouse a person to fear those
punishments meted out to the sinful. It helps a person to
become abject and submissive to Hashem, whereby he will be
acquitted of all punishment in his judgment. One who hears
all the tribulations read aloud and is complacent in his
ways, and continues to pursue willful sinfulness, will not be
forgiven. Rather, Hashem will become wrathful against him and
be zealous in effacing his very name from the face of the
We must realize how severe this attitude is -- so severe as
to arouse Hashem's wrath against someone to such an extreme
extent as depicted in the Torah in these portions, at this
The key is that in order for us to emerge victorious in our
judgment on Rosh Hashonoh, we must subjugate ourselves
completely to our King. A person who heard the punishments
read from the Torah and remained serene and unmoved and
deceived himself into thinking that all will go well for him
as it has up until now, is displaying the very opposite of
submission. It is pure arrogance, a denial of the capacity of
his King to punish and visit retribution for evil, as the
Alter of Kelm explained.
He is dismissing, as it were, the power of the King. It is
only just and logical that his name be wiped out for this
vanity and insolence. Says Hashem of such a person: He and I
cannot abide together in the same world. Therefore, it is he
who must quit the world.
This, then, is our duty. In Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, in
retrospect of the horrendous tragedies that took place in the
last year, we must not suffice with a mere recollection and
continue on our carefree, oblivious way. We must remember
that the shocking events we witnessed are an example of the
harsh justice that is meted to those deserving of them in
Gehennom, so that we return to Hashem with love, with all our
heart, for then we can be guaranteed to live in peace and not
be witness to any more such suffering.
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